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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2019)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author

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Exploring Opportunities for Growth for Instructional Designers

By Jennifer Lares, Instructional Designer, California State University, Long Beach, and Laura Widenor, Instructional Designer, Kansas State University

Growing as a professional can be challenging. We all can become wrapped up in our roles and lose sight of the larger dreams we may have – putting things off as we hunker down to accomplish the next task. But instructional designers are a different breed. Our interest, nay obsession, with the improvement of learning pushes us to look to the horizon for the best a brightest path. And, as much as we love learning, we love passing on that knowledge to others. This is the strength of our professional community; we have learned the value of this community through our involvement in the 2018 ID2ID cohort. 

Figure 1ID2ID Logo 

ID2ID is the Penn State/EDUCAUSE instructional design mentoring program that brought us together. We were paired as peers to help each other reach our goals. We shared a passion for creating strong learning environments for students and appreciated the collaboration required for effective instructional design. In getting to know each other, we saw how varied the experiences of instructional designers - with backgrounds in all areas of education and professional experiences – there is no one distinct path to career development in this field. We determined we would like to learn more about the diverse roles that instructional designers play on other campuses in order to help shape growth at our own universities. We also recognized that we needed to continue to learn in order to advance in our careers, so we wanted to explore our options for professional development.

Instructional design roles across multiple campus environments

To begin with, we interviewed six colleagues that we had met through ID2ID or our own personal experiences. We developed a series of five questions to ask other instructional designers.

  1. What is the setup of your campus/ organizational structure? Are you centralized or decentralized? How does this effect your work? What office department do you report to? 
  2. Please tell me about your position and the daily/regular duties you perform? What kind of projects are you required to do on a regular basis? 
  3. Are there any projects that are relevant to your talents that are not typical for an ID? 
  4. What is the perception of instructional design on your campus? Are your faculty members welcoming, hesitant, or negative? 
  5. What challenges do you encounter that may be more specific to your campus and campus culture?

Below is a summary of their responses, similarities and differences, in their roles as instructional designers at the university level.

Campus structure 

Four of the six interviewees worked in more centralized systems with several instructional designers on a team, although there may be other instructional designers across the campus. One worked in a decentralized system in which only a few colleges have an instructional designer on staff. And one was the only instructional designer for her campus.  The offices ranged in placement from information technology, academic affairs, library services, and individual colleges. Those that had multiple members of a team found it very helpful to work together. Two had specific professional studios available at their university to help with course development. One department was a fee-based service arranged through department need. 

Regular duties 

Several interviewees worked directly with faculty on course design, but one said their team was pulling back from that role to make sure they were focused on training faculty to be successful on their own. Three were LMS administrators, but the others worked to separate themselves from the IT role and focus more on course development. All provided training opportunities for faculty related to online learning and quality course content. 

A-typical projects 

The librarian’s focus was on information literacy. Several mentioned the ability to be flexible in their assignments as opportunities became available. One had a very strong focus on accessibility and required all instructional designers to also teach online. The agreement was that instructional designers tend to be a jack-of-all-trades and can be called to help in numerous situations. 

Perception of instructional design 

Several interviewees shared the struggle that most faculty do not understand the benefit of instructional design. Some struggled with faculty feeling defensive and feeling that their academic freedom is being challenged. On the other hand, some faculty get angry that the instructional designers won’t do the work for them. One instructional designer was starting a social media campaign for the college to better explain the role of their office and counter the negative culture surrounding instructional design. A continuous finding when faculty have the opportunity to work with an instructional designer through the process of course design, their feedback is usually the same; they would not have been able to do the conversion process without the help of an instructional designer.  
Challenges specific to campus culture 

The challenges shared were varied, but all discussed being very busy and struggling with the ability to implement new training and guidelines. Push back from outspoken faculty made growth challenging. For instructional designers who were in a decentralized office, the challenges they encountered were finding resources to complete projects, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, and garnering support from upper management to advocate for online education and the projects that fall under the department. 

What we’ve learned from our fellow designers

Each of the instructional designers that we spoke to had very different roles on their campuses. Asking these questions helped us examine our own roles and consider ways that we wanted to grow in our field. Success at our universities involves strong communication and collaboration with faculty and leadership to help smooth the challenges of the instructional design process. We must advance our own skills so that we can be advocates for students and faculty in the quality of the courses and tools offered.

Opportunities for growth

As we’ve seen from our interviews, instructional design and online learning are constantly changing fields. New technologies and tools appear frequently, new teaching techniques are developed, and new research is published. Luckily instructional designers love to share what they have learned. There are numerous ways to continue our professional development and collaborate with our colleagues across the world. We’ve created an infographic to help illustrate what we have learned and help other instructional designers on their development path.

Educational technology and training organizations

Educational Technology organizations abound! As we said before – one thing we love in instructional design is collaboration. These organizations provide training and conference opportunities that focus on instructional design and educational technology. The ID2ID cohort posted many different conferences, both small local organizations and national or international opportunities.  These conferences are often attended by both faculty and instructional designers and create collaborative environments where all individuals can freely share their ideas and ask for help in solving issues occurring on their campuses. These organizations help us advance both our knowledge and our careers. Several different organizations have their materials licensed under creative commons in order to more freely share the tools they have developed.

Building transferrable skills

Since the roles of instructional designers varies from university to university, it’s important for us to build skills across the breadth of the roles. Having pedagogical knowledge in online learning, technical training on a wide array of learning management systems and online tools, project management leadership, and many other areas help us prepare for new opportunities as they become available. We cannot hold ourselves back by doubting our ability to handle new technologies and skills and showing our varied skills helps new employers to see our adaptability and love of learning new innovations.


With the focus of instructional design often being online learning, of course all the resources are online! Instructional design and online teaching are strong research areas right now and staying aware of this research helps instructional designers stay on the cutting edge of the field. Educause, Online Learning Consortium, and Merlot are a list of just a few of the repositories for this type of research. Providing faculty with proven research studies can help them see the efficacy of instructional design partnerships, online teaching modifications and technology improvements.

Networking and mentoring

Networking and mentoring opportunities are critical for career success in instructional design, especially for those that may be a one-person-shop on their campus. Electronic mailing lists (aka listservs) give everyone an opportunity to ask questions of colleagues across the country and learn what is working, and what isn’t. We have seen questions ranging from white board cleaning to strategic planning. As well, many colleagues in this field write blog posts that can be extremely helpful. These help us ponder ideas and solutions we haven’t considered yet and get fresh perspectives from those outside our circle. 

Growth opportunities for instructional designers

We have grown tremendously over the past six months of being involved in the ID2ID program. We are more aware of the roles and experiences of instructional designers across the United States and the potential growth in our field. We have learned ways to improve our own knowledge and get involved in our community. Our network of colleagues has expanded across the country. We both feel better equipped to tackle our own professional development goals in the coming years and know that we have the support of an incredible group of learning leaders.

About the Co-Authors

Jennifer Lares is an Instructional Designer at California State University, Long Beach.  At CSU, Long Beach, she has worked on projects that have included developing new student orientations for freshmen and transfer students into a flipped module, implementation of the QOLT and QM rubrics for course conversions as well as many other projects. She has been working in online and higher education for the past 10 years in various other roles including registration evaluator, advising, student leadership and supplemental instruction. 

Jennifer also has a Master’s degree in Education, Educational Technology and Media Leadership, and Technical and Professional Writing Certificate from CSU, Long Beach, and a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from San Diego State University.  In addition to completing the requirements for the ID2ID buddy program, she has also participated the New Leadership Academy, offered through the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAAHE) and National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good (National Forum) at the University of Michigan.

Laura Widenor serves as an instructional designer for Kansas State University Global Campus. Her primary responsibilities include assisting faculty in the design of online coursework, course reviews, and providing resources for best practices in online teaching. Laura served as the Faculty Services Coordinator for K-State Global Campus for 4 years. Prior to joining the K-State Global Campus, Laura acquired several years teaching experience in Idaho and held a variety of administrative positions in student life.

Laura holds a Master’s degree in Elementary Education, which she received through a hybrid online and on-campus program from University of Phoenix, Boise and the Advanced Graduate Certificate in Online Education from Lamar University. She holds two certificates from the Online Learning Consortium in online teaching and instructional design. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Psychology at the University of California, Davis.

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